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Lightning causes massive fireball at UK biogas plant

A lightning strike caused a large fireball to flare out from a UK biogas plant last week as the facility’s storm protection systems were overwhelmed.

Organic waste recycler Agrivert’s Wallingford plant in Oxfordshire became the target of nature’s wrath on June 16 when a lightning ignited methane gas stored in the facility’s waste digester.

The gas burst into the sky as massive flames, destroying the facility’s roof and causing damages running up to £250,000 (€323,000), but no personal injuries were reported.

The blaze lasted for about a half hour before the plant’s engines, which were kept running throughout the incident, managed to consume the gas and the fire was put out.

Harry Waters, commercial director at Agrivert, stressed the importance of getting the plant equipment up and running quickly to keep the gas circulating through the system and not feed the fire further.

The plant was back to normal operation in only 90 minutes due to the staff’s fast response, but Agrivert is nonetheless planning to review its safety systems despite having already recently done so.

“This was a key lesson for us. Any protection system is never 100% fool-proof, but we would be mad not to review what we got,” Waters told Bioenergy Insight.

“We’re very disappointed about being struck, of course, but there’s also a lot of positive about this. Our equipment and staff both performed as they should. We have tall chimneys and a 30-40m tall radio mast nearby, and we’re in a low lightning area. Four other installations nearby were also struck, so this was really an off-chance incident,” he said.

As part of its review process, Agrivert is planning to invite representatives of the local fire services to attend a tour to properly familiarise themselves with the plant’s safety protocol.

Four fire crews, equipped with breathing apparatus, also helped tackle the flames and stayed on the site for several hours after the fire was out to ensure the plant’s safety.

Agrivert uses the 2.4MW Wallingford plant to process 37,000 tonnes of locally sourced food waste annually into biogas in two digesters.

This article was written by Ilari Kauppila, deputy editor at Bioenergy Insight